By RYNE R. MARTIN
MASSENA - Town officials have put a spending freeze in place as they have finalized a spending plan for 2013 that calls for property owners in the municipality to see tax rate increases of between 20 and 30 percent.
Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said the spending freeze was an offshoot of Councilman Albert N. Nicolas suggestions that town officials needed to start work on their 2014 budget in January, not wait until September and October to grapple with what is expected to be yet another challenging fiscal situation.
Mr. Gray sent our a memorandum to town departments earlier this month announcing the spending freeze.
Due to the towns current financial status, the Town Council has directed me to impose a spending freeze for all budget items except those essential to the operation of your office, he wrote in the memorandum to town staff.
In addition, all purchases must be approved by the town supervisor prior to ordering. These two provisions will stay in place until further notice for fiscal year 2012 and fiscal year 2013, the memorandum noted.
He said town officials are concerned about the amount of the fund balance they have had to use to develop a 2013 spending plan that still calls for a significant double-digit percent tax hike.
The only way to make it up is to save money. The thinking was as we get toward the end of the year lets try and limit spending as much as we can and carry that money over to next year. I sign off on every bill that comes through now, Mr. Gray said.
He said the town has long had a purchasing policy. Vouchers have always been filled out, processed and then signed off on by the board. Town Councilman John Macaulay said the typical situation in the past had been the vouchers were approved after the purchases had been made.
That process has been tightened in recent weeks. Now nothing gets purchased without me signing off on it first. Were watching our spending very closely, but we still have to do business. We are reviewing all purchases to make sure we are getting the best prices, according to the town supervisor.
He said the new steps are not an attack on the towns department heads. The town of Massena is blessed with a great staff. They are conscientious. They are not spending recklessly. We are just taking a look at everything to see if there is a more cost-effective way to do it or if there are things we can go without, Mr. Gray noted.
He stressed department heads will still have discretion to make emergency repairs.
Councilman Charles Raiti said the Massena Library Board had been confused with some of the wording in the spending freeze memorandum.
They have to work with us. We tried to tell them to start building their fund balance now because 2014 will be as bad as this year, if not worse, Mr. Raiti noted.